Turkish chopper fugitives seek asylum in Greece

AP News
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Posted: Jul 21, 2016 11:51 AM
Turkish chopper fugitives seek asylum in Greece

ALEXANDROUPOLIS, Greece (AP) — Eight Turkish officers who fled to Greece by military helicopter during last week's attempted coup have been handed suspended sentences by a Greek court — removing a potential obstacle to their extradition back to Turkey.

The court Thursday sentenced the six pilots and two engineers to two months in prison for illegally entering Greece. The sentences were suspended for three years, but they remained in police custody pending resolution of their asylum applications.

Turkey has demanded their return to stand trial for participation in Friday's coup attempt. The eight deny involvement and have applied for asylum, saying they fear for their safety amid widespread purges in the aftermath of the attempted overthrow of the government.

"We apologize for the inconvenience caused to the Greek state but we acted without having any alternative," the eight defendants said in a joint statement read out by their lawyer.

"We had no involvement in the attempted coup. We proudly serve in our country's armed forces and are committed to democracy and human rights."

Their asylum applications were being examined, and they will appear before immigration authorities on July 27 for the second time for interviews.

The eight landed at the airport of the northeastern Greek city of Alexandroupolis early Saturday in a Black Hawk helicopter after issuing a mayday signal and requesting permission for an emergency landing, which was granted.

During Thursday's court proceedings, all testified that they were crew members of three helicopters and had been unaware that a coup attempt was underway. They said they had been tasked with transporting wounded soldiers and civilians and that their helicopters had come under fire from police and others on the ground.

They said they landed at a military base near a hospital and came under fire again, and were told by their unit not to return to their home base because the situation was too dangerous. After heading to another location, the personnel decided to flee for their lives in one helicopter, they said.

A Greek policeman who testified said all eight were unarmed and cooperative after landing, offered no resistance to arrest, surrendered immediately and asked for political asylum.

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Becatoros reported from Athens. Fanis Karabatzakis contributed.

Follow Kantouris at http://www.twitter.com/CostasKantouris and Becatoros at http://www.twitter.com/ElenaBec